The reprieve granted this week to Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Anne Arundel County -- which successfully appealed its way off a list of campuses tagged for academic "restructuring" because of chronically low test scores -- could provide a pattern for other schools sinking toward the bottom of a state watch list under the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.
Van Bokkelen, which serves a high-poverty community in Severn, is one of seven schools in the state, including four in Charles County and one in Howard County, that have successfully appealed to the state after being told that they had failed to make "adequate yearly progress.'' Such progress is based on test scores or attendance rates.
The successful appeal, announced by the school system Wednesday, has profound meaning for Van Bokkelen. Had it failed, some teachers at the school would have had to reapply for their jobs.
The school missed performance targets, though test scores rose the past two years. The prospect of restructuring came as Principal Rose Tasker retired this summer after 36 years in education.
"Everyone is just so happy," said Andrea Rose, who replaced Tasker as principal. "Everyone pulled together, and everyone was part of the success."
Maryland schools that miss their performance goals for two consecutive years are put on a state watch list. If they continue to miss the targets, they slip further down the list. Schools that fall short for six years, including Van Bokkelen, must undergo restructuring. A school must meet goals for two consecutive years to leave the list, which includes about 170 schools.
Van Bokkelen was one of 56 schools statewide at the final stage of corrective action: restructuring. Forty-six are in Baltimore, the remaining nine in Prince George's County.
Van Bokkelen met its academic goals last year. This year, it fell short in a single area: special education. Twenty-six special education students at Van Bokkelen took the Maryland School Assessment, and success or failure hinged on the performance of four students.
The school based its appeal on a little-known provision of federal education policy. The U.S. Education Department said this year that it would allow up to 2 percent of students nationwide to take modified versions of the required statewide exams. The exemption applies to students in special education who cannot perform at grade level despite extensive efforts by teachers. Already, the 1 percent of students with the most severe handicaps are allowed to take alternative tests.
The new policy allows school systems to appeal 2005 test results for special education students who should have been allowed to take an easier test. Anne Arundel school leaders found three such students at Van Bokkelen and a fourth who mistakenly was included in the special education population.
Three schools in Charles County -- Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary, Indian Head Elementary and Milton M. Somers Middle -- successfully appealed to the state this month on the same grounds, according to Ronald Peiffer, deputy state superintendent for academic policy. Three other schools -- Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary in Charles County, Homewood Center in Howard County and Furman L. Templeton Elementary, an Edison Schools partnership in Baltimore -- succeeded in appeals, which argued that students were counted in the wrong category, Peiffer said.
Peiffer said the state is considering several appeals -- many based on the special education provision -- from schools that missed their performance targets. In Anne Arundel, for example, six of the 10 schools that missed their goals fell short only in special education. Schools can appeal until July 14.